Project: Chalkboard stairs

I have a stairway that goes up to the attic level of my house (that’s where my bedroom is, though originally the attic was unfinished.) The stairway was last painted some decades ago with boring gray floor paint. The walls are dingy “landlord white.” I’ve meant to do something with the stairway for 18 years, but was never sure exactly what. Bright colored steps? Dark? Wood-finish? And what to do with the walls?

I spent a lot of time looking for ideas and inspiration. I made a Pinterest board that currently contains 244 pins of interesting staircases. But the solution to the stairway eluded me.

This is about the best the stairs ever looked. Because you are far enough away not to see the flaws.

This is about the best the stairs ever looked before now. Because you are far enough away not to see the flaws.

You can see in the photo what my stairs looked like. Plain gray, with a curtain to hide them (and keep the heat downstairs when necessary). They look better in the picture than they did in reality. In reality, they are so dull, old, and dirty-looking. No amount of cleaning makes them look nice.

Redoing them is an annoying task — finding the right floor paint, and the right color, and setting up a gate to keep the cat off the stairs, and keeping off the stairs myself while the paint dries. I just haven’t had time to think about it much. But I realized that I could just decorate the risers — the front part of each step — without much fuss. I could draw on them, paper them, paint something, whatever. Eventually when I redo the whole stairway — which I still need and intend to do — I can remove or paint over whatever I do now.

I thought about lettering something interesting on each riser. A quote of some kind. And then, I remembered chalkboard paint. Ah, chalkboard paint. So fun. And, at the moment, so trendy. One thing led to another, and a few days later, this was my stairway:

Yes, I'm a Beatles fan. How did you know?

Yes, I’m a Beatles fan. How did you know?

The risers are now chalkboards, and I can change the lettering any time I like. Or I can just draw things on them. I could even write reminders on them like “Don’t forget to pick up the laundry while you’re up there!” if I wanted to.

The top of each step is still the ugly old gray paint. But even with the dingy grey steps and white walls, the stairs look 100% better than they did before, and the whimsy of my chalkboard steps makes me smile whenever I see them.

Closer look at the stairsIt’s also a fun place to practice some chalkboard lettering styles. Chalk is pretty forgiving! Some of these words were easy to write, and others involved some erasing before I was happy with them.

“Chalkboarding” your staircase is easy. I used Rustoleum’s chalkboard paint in a quart can (not the spray paint). The paint goes a very long way. This is the second project I’ve used it on, and I am maybe 1/4 way through the can. Ideally you are supposed to use a foam brush or roller to get the smoothest finish, but I just used a normal brush. (Living dangerously, I didn’t bother taping around the steps, either. It worked out fine, but unless you like to live as dangerously as I do, you might want to tape some paper or plastic down.)

Clean the surface you are going to paint. If it’s rough, sand it or your writing surface won’t work well. (I didn’t need to do this — the surface is a bit rough here and there, but it seems to be OK.) Paint a coat of chalkboard paint. At this point, you’ll probably ooh and ahh at the deep, rich black finish. That is, if you use black paint. Chalkboard paint really does look nice when it hasn’t been chalked on yet!

Wait four hours before the next coat. Then give it at least one more coat. Two, if you can. (I used one.)

Now comes the hard part. If you’re like me, you want to start writing on your new chalkboard steps! But you can’t. You have to wait three days for the paint to cure. Three days! If you don’t do this, I’m told that the words you write on the board might be permanent. And you don’t want your steps to be that unforgiving, do you? So be patient, and wait.

In three days, break out the chalk. But, wait! Don’t write yet. First, you have to condition the chalkboards. (You may need a lot of chalk for this step.) Take some chalk on its side and cover each step completely with chalk. Then wipe the chalk off with a dry cloth, leaving a fine film of chalkdust on the surface. (At this point you lose that beautiful deep rich black color, but instead, the surface gets that slightly cloudy chalkboard look. Don’t stress out about it. That’s what it’s supposed to look like!)

Now you can write on it! Be a bit gentle with it at first while the paint continues to cure a bit more. What will you write on yours? I started with a Beatles lyric. But I have other ideas — poems, famous quotes, Burma Shave ads…

Eventually, I’ll paint the walls and the steps and brighten this area up a bit. I may or may not keep the chalkboard risers at that time. But in the meantime, I have something I can enjoy, in a part of my home that always depressed me before.

hallway before and after

Pinterest and the bedroom project

It probably goes without saying, but Pinterest was an immeasurable help in getting the bedroom project designed and completed. Back in the old days (by which I mean 2009), when I planned my new kitchen, I did it semi-old school by creating a digital inspiration board:


and a digital materials board:


Both of these were helpful, but they were a bit tedious to put together. I had to find the images I wanted, copy or scan them, and paste them into Photoshop, where I would try to make them fit into the page.

Pinterest has made that process completely simple, as long as the images you want to use are in digital form somewhere. Click a button, edit some text, boom! You’ve got an inspiration board. Or a materials board. Or a brag board. Or some combination of the three.

I used one to compile ideas for this project for a long time: possibly a couple of years. And now it also contains images of the finished room.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 12.24.37 PMCertain patterns became obvious almost from the beginning: painted white floors; pink, red, and orange; rich fabrics; attic doors; built-in bookcases. And so the design developed almost organically from the collection of things I loved.

Some pins very specifically inspired me, however, and I’d like to credit them here. Click on the photos to see the pins on Pinterest (from which you can usually click through to the original source material).

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 12.33.45 PM

The painted red table is easier to clean than the old unfinished pine.  The basket on the lower shelf hides things that might otherwise be messy.

When I saw this pin, with the coral-red painted RAST nightstand, it was a revelation. I already had two of those nightstands, still unfinished pine, that I’d owned for more than a decade. I hadn’t decided yet whether to keep them. This pin (unfortunately, I do not know its source, but I will credit it if I find out!) showed me that a painted RAST would be well worth keeping. A can or two of Rustoleum later, and I had glossy red nightstands that look great against the pale pink wall and white floor. Continue reading

Guess which of these stoves isn’t in my kitchen anymore

Hint: not the old-looking one.

On a whim, a few weeks ago I removed the microwave from my kitchen. It took up too much space, and I realized that all I really used it for was to heat up frozen dinners I shouldn’t be eating anyway. Reheating food and cooking soups and such? That I do on the big stove. It’s better that way. (Microwaved pizza is nasty. It’s so much better when I reheat it on the pizza stone in the oven.) So I decided to try to go a few months without the microwave to see if I miss it enough to bring it back.

So far, the only time I’ve missed it much is when I was trying to de-crystallize some honey. Putting it in the microwave is the quickest way to do it. But it’s not worth keeping it around just for that.

I didn’t have a microwave until I was well into my adulthood, so I think I should be fine without it.

Anyone else given up on their microwave?

Pinterest pinner of the moment: Craftsman Junky

Craftsman Junky's collection of pinboards -- this is only a partial section of the list. Click through to see the full page.

Craftsman Junky’s collection of pinboards — this is only a partial section of the list. Click through to see the full page.

Instead of choosing one Pinterest board to write about this week, I’ve chosen a collection of pinboards by a single pinner: Craftsman Junky. Craftsman Junky is actually Sharon from the Laurelhurst 1912 Craftsman blog about renovating a 1912 Craftsman home in Portland, Oregon. Since I have a 1911 Craftsman bungalow in Seattle, this is relevant to my interests.

The blog is great itself, but the collection of images and links that Sharon has compiled on Pinterest is really stunning. Check out this list of boards:

  • House Interiors (early 1900s)
  • House Exteriors (early 1900s)
  • Craftsman Dining Rooms
  • Craftsman Living Rooms
  • Craftsman Bedrooms
  • Craftsman Remodel
  • Early 1900s Bathrooms
  • Remodeled Bathrooms
  • Early 1900s Kitchens
  • Remodeled Kitchens
  • Shopping Resources
  • Craftsman Furniture
  • Craftsman Stencils, Wallpaper and Paint Colors
  • Early 1900s Tile

There are more, including collections of early 20th Century clothing. If you have an old house, or any interest in Arts and Crafts style of the early 1900s, these are great boards to follow.

Hewn and Hammered

Hewn and Hammered is a brand-new weblog about Craftsman, Mission, and Prairie design and architecture. The blog isn’t just about house restoration, but will also discuss the work of current and historical A&C artists and craftspeople, and include articles about the history and philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement.

The site is edited by the editor of the excellent Typographica web site, so it ought to be good.

Bad neighbor.

Ken Woolcott bought a historic house on Queen Anne Hill — a 1914 house by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prot?g?s that was “one of the 10 or 15 most significant houses in the city.” Did he restore it? No. He had it demolished without even allowing a serious attempt at salvage.

The secretiveness of the project indicates that he knew there would be objections, and so the demolition was done without even giving preservationists and historians a chance to document the house and salvage reusable items. The selfishness of such an act (and the weak justifications given by Mr. Woolcott) sadden me greatly.

I understand that he owns the property now, but when one buys a historic property a certain responsibility comes with it. He could have allowed the home to be moved, studied, or salvaged before building his new dream home (which I imagine will be a monstrosity). He didn’t. He may have financial wealth, but he’s awfully poor in the civic duty area.

The height of 1901 style

Today I visited the Stimson-Green Mansion on First Hill, since I am researching it for a paper. Here are some photos I took. The house was built in 1901. It is strongly influenced by English Arts and Crafts, but is an Eclectic style — several rooms are Tudor, one is Empire style, one is a sort of Moorish style. All of it is incredibly well-crafted, and well-preserved. It’s amazing that the gilded burlap wall covering in the entry hall, for example, was not removed over the years. The painted design on it has been retouched, but it is otherwise original.

Mostly these are pictures of details within the house. The big pictures of the rooms and hallways, and the exterior, are easily found online and in books, but the details are harder to find, so I photographed those. Unfortunately I ran out of photo battery power so I didn’t get as many photos as I had hoped to get.

You can see other pictures and info about the house (including exterior shots and lots of stuff I didn’t get to photograph) at:

Another step in the process

Went to the Bungalow Fair at Town Hall yesterday and saw some amazing stuff, none of which we can afford. Gorgeous antique furniture, silkscreen, watercolor and letterpress prints, William Morris wallpapers, pottery, etc. There was a book I really wanted: a 100 year-old art book with tons of amazing engravings — but it was $400.

Since we couldn’t improve the house with any of that, I came home and sanded the spackled walls in the foyer until my arms gave out. It’s a little more than half done (yes, I am a wimp), and the next steps are: finish sanding, get Jason to spackle some of the ceiling bits I can’t reach, clean the walls, tape, primer, and paint. (Then there is some floor work but I don’t want to think about that right now.)

This is the slowest renovation ever.